The extension of non-immigrant visa holders in the US, including those from India, facing difficulties as a direct result of the COVID-19 national emergency might be provided special consideration or expedited processing on a case-by-case basis, the country's citizenship and immigration agency has said.
In the Indian context, non-immigrant visas prominently includes B-1 and B-2 visas for business or travel purposes, F-1 visas for students, J-1 visas for exchange visitors mainly research scholars and physicians, H-1B for IT professionals and L1 for intra company transferees in managerial or executive position.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Tuesday said that it has taken steps to help individuals, employers and others address some of the immigration-related challenges they face as a direct result of the COVID-19 national emergency.
"For those in the United States in need of an extension of their nonimmigrant stay, the USCIS may extend their stay depending on the circumstances," a USCIS spokesperson told news agency PTI.
"We may also provide special consideration or expedited processing for those who may need it on a case-by-case basis," the official said.
The response from the USCIS, when asked about H-1B visas, indicated that there is no blanket extension of any non-immigrant visas during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic crisis and that an individual needs to apply for the visa extension or stay in the US explaining their circumstances.
"When requested, the USCIS may provide special support to individuals who may be affected by the circumstances beyond their control," the spokesperson said.
The USCIS, the spokesperson said, continues to analyse issues and other possible steps the agency may take to further address some of these challenges and will consider the public''s recommendations.
"We will continue to communicate any changes we make across multiple platforms to ensure the public is fully informed of the steps USCIS is taking to address the challenges resulting from this national emergency," the spokesperson said.
The Department of Homeland Security earlier said it recognises that there are immigration-related challenges as a direct result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
"We continue to carefully analyse these issues and to leverage our resources to effectively address these challenges within our existing authorities. The DHS also continues to take action to protect the American people and our communities and is considering a number of policies and procedures to improve the employment opportunities of US workers during this pandemic," it said.
"Generally, non-immigrants must depart the United States before their authorised period of admission expires. However, we recognise that non-immigrants may unexpectedly remain in the United States beyond their authorised period of stay due to COVID-19," the notification said, adding that people could apply for a visa extension.
If applicants put in their forms within the specified time frame, their presence will not be taken as "unlawful" and where applicable, "employment authorisation with the same employer, subject to the same terms and conditions of the prior approval, is automatically extended for up to 240 days when an extension of stay request is filed on time," the notification said.
The US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) added it "reminds petitioners and applicants that it can consider delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic when deciding whether to excuse delays in filing documents based on extraordinary circumstances."
According to rules, if an employer terminates the contract of an H-1B holder, the employee needs to find new employment within 60 days, in order to retain the visa status. Indian IT workers have been seeking an extension of this 60 day grace period to 180 days.
According to the USCIS, Indians are the biggest beneficiaries of the H-1B visa programme.